The British government has ordered an urgent inquiry into the allegations that asylum seekers in the town of Middlesbrough are housed in properties with red-painted doors making it easy to be identified, and targeted for abuse.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire launched the probe after an investigation by the Times newspaper found that most of the public houses for asylum seekers in the town of Middlesbrough were distinguishable from the neighboring residents.
"I am deeply concerned by this issue and I have commissioned Home Office officials to conduct an urgent audit of asylum seeker housing in the north east.” Mr. Brokenshire said, according to the Guardian. “I expect the highest standards from our contractors. If we find any evidence of discrimination against asylum seekers, it will be dealt with immediately as any such behavior will not be tolerated."
The houses in Middlesbrough are owned by Jomast, a subcontractor of the security firm G4S. Times journalist Andrew Norfolk reported that he visited 168 Middlesbrough homes occupied by asylum seekers, and discovered that 155 of them had red-painted doors. Sixty of the 66 houses that the Times journalist interviewed were occupied by asylum seekers.
Those interviewed complained that they were frequently subjected to verbal abuse, with others saying that they had eggs and rocks thrown at their houses.
"Asylum houses have red doors. Everyone knows that," Ahmad Zubair a resident was quoted by the Times. "People were shouting outside the house, calling us hate words, throwing things at our windows."
Suzanne Fletcher, a local resident who chairs the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary told the BBC Radio 4's Today program that over the last four years, she has raised the issue with several officials from G4S, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, and the National Audit Office, but nothing has been done.
"Over four years ago when I was working with groups of asylum seekers, they were worried it marked them out and were worried about attacks." Ms. Fletcher said. “In September 2012, we asked G4S if they would do something about the red doors and they replied that they had no intention of doing anything about it.”
G4S subcontracted the building ownership and management to Jomast.
But the owner of Jomast, Stuart Monk, has denied the allegation that his company had been discriminatory, saying that it didn’t have such policy towards asylum seekers. “As many landlords will attest, paint is bought in bulk for use across all properties.” Monk said in a statement. “It is ludicrous to suggest that this constitutes any form of discrimination, and offensive to make comparisons to a policy of apartheid in Nazi Germany."
G4S defended Jomast in a statement saying that “fewer than 20 percent of Jomast’s properties were used to house asylum seekers,” the Guardian reported. The company, however, said that it would repaint the doors with different colors.
"Although we have received no complaints or requests on this issue from asylum seekers we house, in light of the concerns raised Jomast has agreed to address the issue by repainting front doors in the area so that there is no predominant color," the statement read.